From time to time, I will highlight academic studies that I think are particularly interesting.
Tim Penning started a discussion on PR Open Mic about whether undergraduates should read academic public relations studies. Barbara Nixon, Gareth Thompson, and I expressed agreement that upper-level students should read academic journal articles. Here is a summary of an interesting study.
This study was conducted by
- Michelle Wood, University of Minnesota
- Michelle Nelson, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- Lucy Atkinson, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Julie Lane, University of Wisconsin-Madison
and was published in the Journal of Public Relations Research.
- 151 undergraduate students participated in exchange for receiving extra credit in their journalism and mass communication courses for participation.
- Nearly half of the participants planned to become public relations or advertising professionals, which suggests that they could be more favorable to VNR messaging.
- Students were assigned to one of four conditions:
- reading about VNR practices and then watching a labeled VNR during a newscast
- reading about VNR practices only
- not reading about VNR practices and then watching a labeled VNR during a newscast
- not reading about VNRs or watching a newscast with a VNR (the control group)
Participants then answered questions about
- the credibility of the newscast
- the credibility of the VNR story
- who the source was of the VNR story (e.g., the company, the news station)
- attitude toward the VNR message
- attitude toward the featured company
Findings (people who did not read about VNR practices first)
- Participants who did not read about VNR practices and then watched the labeled VNR story did not think the newscast or VNR message was less credible than the participants who viewed the unlabeled VNR.
- Participants who did not read about VNR practices and then watched the labeled VNR story did not have more negative attitudes toward the VNR message or the VNR company than the participants who viewed the unlabeled VNR.
- Labeling the source of VNR stories slightly improved people’s ablity to remember who the VNR company was.
This means that for people who have not read about VNR practices,
- labeling VNRs helps the VNR organization by slightly improving people’s ability to remember the organization.
- labeling VNRs does not hurt the credibility of the VNR sponsor or attitudes toward the VNR sponsor.
- labeling VNRs does not hurt the credibility of the newscast or attitudes toward the newscast.
Findings (people who read about VNR practices before watching the VNR)
- Participants who read an article about VNR practices and then watched a newscast with a VNR thought the VNR was less credible than participants who had not read an article about VNR practices.
- Participants who read an article about VNR practices and then watched a newscast with a VNR thought the newscast was less credible than participants who had not read an article about VNR practices.
- Labeling the VNR intensified the loss of credibility for participants who had read about VNR practices.
- However, participants who read an article about VNR practices and then watched a newscast with a VNR did not have more negative attitudes toward the VNR company or VNR message than participants who had not read an article about VNR practices and watched the newscast.
This means that for people who have read about VNR practices,
- a VNR message will not have a lot of credibility, especially if it is labeled.
- use of a VNR lowers the credibility of a newscast.
- a VNR will not necessarily hurt attitudes toward the sponsoring organization.
Guidelines to Which the Authors Refer
- Public Relations Society of America: Use of footage or VNRs provided by organizations other than the station or network should be labeled by the media outlet when aired.
- Radio-Television News Directors Association: Reporters should “clearly disclose the origin of information and label all material provided by outsiders.”
- Federal Communications Commission: News stations are only required to label VNRs when the subject matter is a contested issue of public importance, a political topic, or a topic for which stations receive payment for airing.
- Professional communicators are responsible for providing audiences with information that is needed to make an informed decision about the message. Thus, professional communicators should label VNRs.
Wood, M. L. M., Nelson, M. R., Atkinson, L., & Lane, J. B. (2008). Social utility theory: Guiding labeling of VNRs as ethical and effective public relations. Journal of Public Relations Research 20(2), 231-249. doi:10.1080/10627260801894405